In the early 1970’s Native Alaskans had hundreds of thousands of acres of land returned to native ownership as part of a settlement with the federal government. The land has been managed in large part by a Native Corporation known as Sealaska, whose shareholders are by majority the Haida, Tlinglit, and Tshimshian people of Southeastern Alaska, to whom the corporation pays dividends to, and supports, housing, health, community, and cultural initiatives.
For over a generation, these communities have modeled responsible land stewardship models that stand in contrast to the clear cut operations that their non-native counterparts have long been known for. Despite this, there have still been economic necessities that require logging to take place in old growth forests that exist in the region.
Last year, opportunities arose that give an opportunity to change that model. California’s cap and trade credit system has been opened to publicly held companies, offering Sealaska opportunity to receive economic benefits from leaving some of their land and forests alone. By giving financial incentive, tribes have been able to balance their desire to maintain the ecological health of lands they depend on, while still supporting community needs.
Tribes are now potentially in reach of being able to monetize ethics around sustainability. This type of model could be an enormous win for tribes and the environment, in that they are unique in their ownership over large tracts of land.